20th Sunday after Pentecost October 7, 2018


True Contentment

Philippians 4:10-13

Scripture Readings

1 Timothy 6:6-12
Philippians 4:4-9


535:1-4&8-9, Lutheran Service Book 763 [TLH alt. 400], 430:1,3-4,8, Worship Supplement 789 [TLH alt. 468:1,3-4]

Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted

Prayer of the Day (Collect): Lord Jesus Christ, our support and defense in every need, continue to preserve Your Church in safety, govern her by Your goodness, and bless her with Your contentment and peace. We pray this in Your name, dear Jesus, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him [Christ] who strengthens me.

Verse 13 of our text is one of the most familiar and popular verses in the Bible. You can find this verse printed on many Christian-themed keepsakes and decorations. In fact, you can find this verse on a plaque on the back of my office desk at church. One of the most famous and recognizable athletes in our country, Steph Curry, has this verse printed on his signature basketball shoe line and features this verse prominently on his athletic apparel line. He’s even said that he sees this passage as sort of a “theme verse” for his life and profession as an athlete. Countless numbers of Christians over the years have found this verse to be particularly inspiring and empowering: “I can do all things through [Christ] who strengthens me” (v.13).

It’s not surprising that this verse is so powerful and so popular. It is a great verse! It is the “inspiring” inspired Word of God, after all! We use this verse as a reminder of what great things Christ can accomplish through us, and that’s true. This verse should remind each one of us that “can’t” really shouldn’t have a place in a Christian’s vocabulary.

But how many people actually know the context of this verse from Philippians chapter 4? Do you (or did you, at least before we read our text for today)? Paul wrote this verse in the context of finding True Contentment. No matter what the circumstances, no matter what the conditions, Paul found his True Contentment in Christ! This verse was meant first and foremost to remind us that we can be content at all times and endure all things “through Christ who strengthens [us].”

One of the best definitions for contentment that I’ve heard is this, “It’s not having what you want; it’s wanting what you’ve got.” So, would you say that describes you? Are you are content? Whatever stage or situation or season of life you are in right now, are you content? If I have to answer that question honestly, I have to say “no,” I am not always content. If I think even a little bit I’ll remember that I did do some complaining yesterday (if I think a little harder I’ll probably find that I probably did the some the day before as well, and the day before, and so on…). There are things about my life, my health, my appearance, my ministry, my relationships, my bank account, etc. that I haven’t always been content with as I should. How about you?

Listen again to Paul’s words as he reminds us of the key to True Contentment: “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him [Christ] who strengthens me.”

Now before you think, “Well, that’s easy for Paul to say! He was inspired by God. He was a great missionary. He was even given the ability to perform some miracles!” Yes, he was a man who was blessed tremendously by God—but he was also a man who knew poverty, persecution, pain, and suffering. He apparently suffered from some sort of physical handicap which he called his “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7). He apparently wasn’t much of a physical specimen either. His enemies claimed that he looked like a “weakling,” and didn’t even think he was much of a speaker (2 Corinthians 10:10). His missionary work and ministry paid him next to nothing and he had to work a second job to support himself so that the congregations he served didn’t have to (2 Corinthians 11:7-9). During his ministry Paul was whipped, beaten with rods, stoned and left for dead, shipwrecked, endured many dangerous situations and threats from Jews and Gentiles alike, and at times went hungry, naked, and cold (see 2 Corinthians 12:23-28).

Do you think Paul was content with his physical appearance and abilities?

Do you think Paul was content with his job and his financial situation?

(Oh yeah, did I mention that Paul was writing this letter to the Philippians from prison?)

Do you think Paul was content with his situation in life?

Amazingly, as we read in our sermon text, he was! Even more than that, remember Paul’s words from a few verses earlier in this chapter of Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4).

What was the secret to Paul’s joy and contentment despite his circumstances? By faith, he knew that his contentment and joy wasn’t dependent on his circumstances in life. Rather, it was dependent on Christ. Remember, Paul said, “Rejoice in the Lord always.” “In the Lord”—that is the key to true joy. Not, “Rejoice when times are good,” or “Rejoice because you have everything you want,” or “Rejoice because everything is lining up just the way you planned it,” but rather, “Rejoice in the Lord!” The key to contentment is also found “in the Lord.” In our sermon text, after explaining how he has learned to be content in all circumstances, Paul shares with us the secret to contentment: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (v.13). Paul wasn’t happy and content because he had everything he wanted, but because he wanted what he had. What he had was Christ and that was more than enough for him!

Does your contentment and joy depend on your circumstances, or on Christ? Remember: Christ is more than “enough” for you and me as well. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (v.13). This should be the motto of our hearts and minds. It should be the motto of our very lives as Christians.

Are you “discontented” with your life situation? Recognize the danger of “discontent.” It truly is the devil’s playground. Discontent was the root of his first temptation with Eve in the Garden (Genesis 3) and he’s been perfecting that temptation in our hearts and minds ever since. Even the secular world understands this. The medical community gets it. Psychologists and behavioral therapists recognize the emotional and even physical pain that being “discontented” with one’s life and situation can cause. They speak about having “radical acceptance” of situations and things that we cannot change—especially when it comes to things that are painful. Not accepting the reality and the pain, they contend, only leads to more suffering. However, letting go of “fighting reality” and creating a “willing response” to each situation lessens the suffering and pain and helps foster contentment.

From our text it sounds like Paul had this down pretty well, didn’t he? Not because he knew some effective behavioral therapy techniques, but because he knew the One who was in control of reality: Christ! Paul was content to let Christ dictate and guide the situations of his life whether he was given “plenty” or had to experience “hunger;” whether he had “abundance” or suffered “need.” Paul knew this truth: “I can do all things through him [Christ] who strengthens me” (v.13).

So, what is it in your life that’s making you feel “discontented?”

Do you feel like you’re going nowhere in life, like you’re trapped in a hopeless situation and can’t get out? “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!”

Are your relationships not what you think they should be? Is loneliness taking away all your joy? Are you afraid you can’t go on alone anymore? You are not alone! “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!”

Is that temptation too strong? Are you afraid that you won’t ever be able to avoid it or overcome it? “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!”

Has someone hurt and wronged you so badly that you feel you’ll never be able to forgive and forget what they did? Have you thought, said, or done things that you regret—sinful, shameful, un-Christian things that you feel you can never forgive yourself for? Do you have “skeletons in your closet,” sins from your past that you’re afraid you’ll never be able to move forward from? “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!”

Repeat and re-read this powerful truth daily—out loud if you have to—in every life situation. And remember, it’s more than just a “Christian motto,” it is a Biblical truth! “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!” Embed it deep into your memory and let it fill your heart. Christ is your strength, He is your joy, and your True Contentment!

In Christ we have everything we want. What price could we put on having a clear conscience? What amount would we pay for the assurance of forgiveness of sins that Christ won for us—freely and completely on the cross? What value can we place on eternal life? What wouldn’t we give for friendship with God Himself, and free access to His almighty power in our lives? We have all this in Christ! He is enough! He is more than enough! He—and He alone—can make us truly content! Amen.

—Pastor Luke Bernthal

St. Stephen Lutheran Church
Mt. View and Hayward, CA

Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.